John Nelson – Through Navajo Eyes: Shallow Well Project (1966)
Shallow Well Project
This is a film that Johnny undertook to make after he was reprimanded by the community for making the photographs of horses which are described in the text. It was at that time that he was asked to supervise the construction of a shallow well.
Johnny previously had experience as a foreman helping to construct these wells in the community. He told the relative who suggested that he undertake the supervision of this construction that he couldn’t do it because he was learning to make movies. But then he realized that perhaps he could make a film about it and thus regain some of his status.
This film is in many ways different from any of the other films made by the Navajo and is discussed in the analysis section. It opens, however, in much the same way, showing the old first-a series of shots of the old open ponds from which the Navajo used to draw water. We then see a series of closeups of flies and insects on the water. After moving with the camera around the stagnant pool we cut quickly to a series of Navajo workmen beginning to build their shallow well. We follow, in almost educational film style, all the processes, in close-up, by which the various portions of the well are built. Intercut at moments are shots of the Navajo reading blueprints, measuring with yardsticks, and receiving instructions from the foreman who actually was in charge of this project. Johnny again shows the typical Navajo use of the circular pan in many of the shots of the cement work as the camera explores the various parts of the installation, always moving in a sunwise direction. When the job is finished we see a Navajo (Johnny used Worth to play the part of a Navajo) walking up to the well and drawing water and we see water coming from the various parts of the shallow well. The film ends not with shots of anybody walking, but with a series of shots of trucks driving away from the well.
Of interest here is that although there are no face close-ups, there are also no shots of Navajos walking to get anything. All the tools and all the equipment they need are right there. Instead of walking away from the job they ride away. This is the only time in any of the films in which Navajos are shown using their pickup trucks.
-Sol Worth & John Adair
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